22 October 2009

Late-autumn Season of Chimney Swifts at River City

During the late-autumn times for Chimney Swifts at Omaha during 2009, weather was a big factor that certainly influenced their end-of-season occurrence as well as affecting attempts to observe where they were present.

Once these birdly bugeaters arrive in town, there are here to stay until the autumnal migration. Certainly their occurrence is of utmost importance, but since it would be a huge task impossible for any individual to map this information, this report will indicate where swifts were noted in particular after mid-September.

Swifts were present at 32 different east-Omaha localities from 10 September to October 21. The general vicinities, listed in alphabetic order, were:

  • Benson
  • Blackstone District
  • Brownell-Talbot School Grounds
  • Carthage
  • Cathedral
  • Creighton University Campus
  • Downtown Omaha
  • Drake Area
  • Duchesne Academy
  • Dundee at Dodge Street
  • Dundee Place
  • Elmwood East Neighborhood
  • Elmwood Park Meadow
  • Elmwood Park Pines
  • Elmwood Park Ravine
  • Field Club
  • Fontenelle Forest
  • Hanscom Park Neighborhood
  • Happy Hollow Creek
  • Izard Industrial Zone
  • Memorial Park
  • Nebraska Medical Center Campus
  • Old Market
  • Saddle Creek Environs
  • Shadow Lake, Elmwood Park
  • Spring Creek Prairie
  • Spring Lake Park
  • Turner/Dewey Park
  • UNOmaha Campus
  • Walnut Hill
  • West Downtown
  • Wood Creek, Elmwood Park

Since swifts are such an easy species to identify, any occurrences could be determined in just a few moments when these birds can be seen above in the skyscape, and most importantly at chimneys which provide vital and essential overnight roost sites. Attention was given to visiting buildings with chimneys which swifts had been known to visit (based on information from 2008 and previous years) as well as any new sites were activity was noted in the early morning when swifts leave their overnight roosts, or in the late evening, when these birds gather about the chimney where they are going to roost.

Notable places in particular, during latter September, were:

  • 468 leaving the big chimney of a historic building at Duchesne Academy on 11 September
  • 304 using the chimney at the Casa Linda apartment house on south 49th Avenue at Dodge Street on 12 September
  • 475 at the chimney at the Casa Linda apartment house on south 49th Avenue at Dodge Street on 21 September, where there was a count of 368 done on 29 September.

Numerous other counts were made from mid- to late-September at various places at the general localities indicated.

Swifts were prevalent during early October, and the continued to occur into the middle of the month, despite weather conditions which did not seem favorable for a bird which relies upon bugs for their daily sustenance.

Since Omaha is a primary locality for Chimney Swifts during the breeding and migratory season, the following records provide some indication of their occurrence during the end of the season. These are the known occurrences of the best bugeater in Nebraska, during October, presenting details on the general vicinity, date including the Julian date, number and notations to indicate details essential to knowing precisely where the swifts were.

Notes on the swifts' occurrence were done in a systematic manner based on visits to known roost sites, but when their occurrence otherwise became especially prominent, information was recorded and entered into a database which includes more than 1000 records of occurrence for just this species. This dataset makes a comparative analysis possible.

  • Blackstone District - 10/01/2009; 336 swifts - p.m. count, done a few minutes before 7:30, with sunset at 7:05: Columbian School Apartments; partly cloud with strong winds
  • Drake Area - 10/01/2009; 388 swifts - a.m. departure from CASA building; cloudy and windy
  • Benson - 10/03/2009; 178 - p.m. count at Benson Community Center
  • Dundee Place - 10/04/2009; 297 - p.m. entrants at Dundee Presbyterian Church
  • Shadow Lake, Elmwood Park - 10/04/2009; 2 - flying about during bird survey
  • Drake Area - 10/04/2009; 17 - a.m. departure; clear and temperatures in the upper 30s; extended departure not done by sunup; 1908 Leavenworth Street
  • Drake Area - 10/04/2009; 180 - a.m. return, during partial count upon return to chimney at Anderson Apartments; morning clear and temp around 40o
  • Happy Hollow Creek - 10/04/2009; 5 - more to the north at church roost
  • Elmwood Park Ravine - 10/04/2009; 5 - flying about during bird survey
  • Elmwood Park Pines - 10/04/2009; 5 - flying about during bird survey
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/05/2009; 42 - done by 7:15 p.m. with cloudy and light rain: 6, 25, 9, 2 in Dundee Theater in p.m.; once these were in, in a few brief moments, about half flew out and went into Casa Linda chimney across Dodge Street, where large numbers had already roosted
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/06/2009; 228 - p.m.: none present at arrival, then 14, 39, 68, 69, 37 into Casa Linda chimney; done by 7:20; one also in chimney of Elwood Apartment House
  • Old Market - 10/07/2009; 65 - p.m. touristy visit and drive after eating; ca. 20 into Fairmont Building chimney; with others foraging above the buildings
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/08/2009; 105 - p.m.: into Casa Linda chimney; others over at Dundee Theater; cloudy, temps in mid-40s
  • Dundee Place - 10/08/2009; 2 - p.m.: into chimney at Alhambra Apartments; possibly others
  • Elmwood Park Meadow - 10/09/2009; 9 - swifting for bugs above the woods
  • Elmwood Park Pines - 10/09/2009; 4 - above the conifers and westward to the UNOmaha campus
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/09/2009; 86 - p.m. watching; at Dundee Theater; 5.5x6 bricks; height about two stories; many others using chimney across Dodge Street
  • Memorial Park - 10/09/2009; 3 - higher in the aerial realm
  • Turner/Dewey Park - 10/09/2009; 125 - swirling about in the a.m., a few from chimney of First Lutheran Church; 4x4.5 bricks, four stories; at 542 south 31st Street
  • Alhambra Apartments. These three pictures were taken the morning of 10 October.

    Casa Linda apartments.

    Dundee Theater.

  • Memorial Park - 10/10/2009; 24 - at midday, low-height foraging amidst a few flurries, with a few inches of snow on the ground; many later noted at less than ten feet above the ground
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/10/2009; 41 - dusk at Casa Linda: 2 out, 2 in, 8, 10, bunch arrived, 21; no swarming with an early roosting; done before 7 p.m.; none noted across Dodge Street
  • Brownell-Talbot School Grounds - 10/10/2009; 25 - latter afternoon just above tree height
  • Dundee at Dodge Street - 10/11/2009; 2 - dusk at Casa Linda: 1 in at 6:45, the other at 6:49; cloudy, with days high temps in the upper 30s
  • Benson - 10/12/2009; 8 - p.m. at Benson Community Center: 1 at 6:39, 1 at 6:41, 2 at 6:42, 3 at 6:44, 1 at 7:02; cloudy with days' temps max in upper 30s; sunset at 6:47
  • Benson - 10/15/2009; 1 - noted flying about above east Benson; roost not apparent on a cloudy evening
  • Memorial Park - 10/16/2009; 16 - noted flying about above park and to westward about 1:30 p.m.
  • Elmwood Park Ravine - 10/18/2009; 1 - particularly noted above the creek and trees during the early afternoon; noticed during a focused look after leaving the UNO library
  • Spring Lake Park - 10/19/2009; 2 - readily seen above the magnificent trees as the bugeaters were searching for another buggy bit to eat
  • Carthage - 10/19/2009; 7 - foraging about in the late evening; expected overnight low about 50o
  • Dundee Place - 10/19/2009; 5 - foraging about in the late evening
  • Memorial Park - 10/19/2009; 40 - foraging about above the park scene in the late evening about 6 p.m.; includes UNOmaha campus and above Dundee Presbyterian Church
  • UNOmaha Campus - 10/21/2009; 9 - at 7:30 a.m., west of the library; temp 59o with temporary, partially clear skies; lows overnight from 61-63o; temps dropped after 10 a.m., sliding into the 40's, with drizzle throughout the day

The most profound aspect of this tally is that Chimney Swifts continued to occur after the 10 October snowfall when several inches of snowfall occurred, though later in the day, temperatures warmed, and swifts were seen foraging above Memorial Park.

Weather on subsequent days did not seem conducive for swifts to continue to occur. Skies were a drab gray. These are the temperature for the following days, according to records of the National Weather Service:

10 Oct: day's high 41o Fahrenheit, low 27o
11 Oct: 40, 31
12 Oct: 45, 33
13 Oct: 47, 30
14 Oct: 45, 37
15 Oct: 49, 43

Yet swifts were still to be seen foraging in the skies. On the 15th of October, a single swift seen at Benson, seemed to be one of the last of these birds to be lingering in the region on another chilly day; and the sighting was expected to be the last of the year.

This was in incorrect assumption. The following day - 16 October - there was a bunch above Memorial Park. Further observations continued, and each was a notable event. Especially surprising were the numbers on 19 October, from the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus eastward to Dundee and the Carthage neighborhood.

Site / Region



Gifford Park



Elmwood East Neighborhood



Duchesne Academy



Dundee at Dodge Street



Dundee at Dodge Street



Dundee at Dodge Street



Blackstone District



Drake Area



The end of season highlight was on 21 October, on a wet and warm morning. When a few swifts were seen in the skies above a bus-stop on Dodge Street near the UNO campus, this was the latest date when this species had ever been personally observed, and was certainly a notable personal achievement derived from regular looking to the skies to see if these wonderful birds were still around.

On 22 October, it was cold with temperatures steady around 41o, and steady rain, so once again this observers view was that the swifts had moved southward. According to notes on a couple of online bird forums, observers in Kansas and Missouri were surprised that this species was still obvious in the skies above their towns and cities, a day or two earlier.

There were several counts of more than 300 swifts at one particular place made this season, as well as last year, as shown in the table.

More than ten counts from 205 to 297 swifts were also made.

The chimney with a continued, large-scale use during the period was at the Casa Linda apartment house at the 100 block of south 49th Avenue.

There were likely other chimneys with larger numbers - especially downtown - but constraints on travel prevented any surveys except for what could get safely done during daylight hours in a limited region from midtown to Benson, or at downtown Omaha during early morning hours.

Swift Migration Times

Chimney at a building which will likely soon be razed as it is abandoned. The structure was built in 1900. Picture taken 18 September 2009.

There are latter known dates when swifts have occurred in southeast Nebraska, but there has been little attention given to documenting the particular places where they roost and occur in particular during the end of their season along the Missouri River.

Three later dates are 24, and 27 October in the south and east portion of the state, according to known occurrence details associated with the updated information associated with the Birds of Nebraska book, as maintained by Ross Silcock, one of its authors. The latest date of occurrence is 5 November, in Douglas County.

Details derived during the 2009 autumn included findings of new places important to the species and their ongoing survival. Thankfully, there were no known chimney sites which were destroyed, though a couple of roost chimneys will certainly be razed in the near future, based on their obvious decrepit condition.

According to those 1025 available records, the Chimney Swift - in Douglas and Sarpy Counties - is present from mid-April to 21 October. This would be a period of about 194 days, based upon Julian date details. Other sources would present something different.

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